Stacking rock on top of rock, building cairn after cairn as the glacier less than 100m away creaks and groans; occasionally snow, ice and rock come thundering down, making me think there must be an enormous thunderstorm on its way, seeing the snow and ice flow like a river down the slope is just as spectacular. I am in a safe spot on the saddle, but I definitely can’t climb any higher without ropes or a partner. Standing on the slopes of Yerupajá Chico, my breath is taken away (both figuratively and literally). When I promised I would build people stone cairns overlooking the source of the Amazon in order to raise funds for my project, I didn’t really expect anyone to take me up on the offer, I am glad they did though. If we hadn’t have made the $5000 target to get the Marañon conservation project off the ground, I highly doubt I would have bothered to undertake this spectacular solo self powered journey from the coast of Peru.
Cycling and hiking through the mountains for a couple of weeks (google maps route), you get a very different perspective to when you are down the bottom of the valley in the river. The highlight was a few days where I went completely off-road/ off track and just cycled overland, challenging, but cool experience. Built lots of cairns and got to know a few of the locals, mission successful! The bad news is that after I had completed the cycle leg of my journey, I checked my email and read that my mate Josh wasn’t going to be able to make it down from the States as planned. Cycling and hiking solo are one thing, but I don’t really want to start paddling solo on unknown rivers. After scouting the headwaters flowing out of Laguna Carhuacocha, it looks like this sweet little 8-10ft waterfall is going to have to wait a while before it gets run! Hopefully I can find someone who wants to get back there next year! I think it would be the first descent of Rio Carhuacocha.
I usually talk lots in blogs posts. Ill try type less and let the photos do the talking in this case. Here are photos for days 1-5.
Day 1: Left the coast at Huacho. Easy 50km on new asphalt before lunch, but after lunch the road turned into one giant contsruction zone, with the dirt road in terrible condition.
Day 2: I’d heard from the lady that cooked me dinner that there were two other cyclists a few hours ahead of me (which is unusual, cos this rd doesn’t see many cyclists), decided to wake up early and try to catch them. Caught them much quicker than expected, having a lazy morning, two brits that had cycles from Alaska to Mexico, and had just flown down to Peru to cycle in the Andes as well. I caught up with them for lunch too, and then set off thinking I might see them in the evening too. After waiting for a few hours in the hot springs just before Churin, I realised they must have made an earlier camp, not being able to make as much speed as me across the horrible construction zone on their hybrid bikes.
Day 3: Finally got out of the construction zone, back onto sealed road for the days 1000m climb up to Oyon. The little roadside river looked paddleable, so I was able to distract myself from he climb by kayaking each rapid in y mind as I passed by. In the afternoon realised 6 out of 7 bolts for my disc brake rotor had been shaken out on the bumpy road. Was super lucky to find an assortment of replacements in the ‘ random spare parts’ box in bike shop in Oyon. Stocked up with 4 days worth of food and some wool gloves to get ready for the pass at Raura. Was going to camp out of town, but then it started thundering, so got a hotel instead…
Day 4: Back onto dirt road. Kept cycling up through some small towns, people laughed at me, and offered me rides in the back of their utes. Stunning campsite that evening overlooking the whole valley
Day 5: Cycled up to the pass at 4850m. It had rained and snowed overnight, and become pretty muddy. The drive train of my bike would get clogged up and stop working every now and then. At the top instead of seeing the incredible view down the other side, it was raining and snowing. If going up was easier than expected, going down was insanely more difficult with the rain freezing me, and mud covering me and making it difficult to see anything at all. Stopped into the cafeteria of the mining settlement of Ruara. Don’t think they normally serve outsiders, but they were super friendly, giving me a solid lunch a bunch of fruit and warm drink for my journey. When the chef of the mine tells you not to drink the water from the lagunas and creeks below, I guess that is a pretty bad sign.
Photos Days 6-12
Day 6: After much debate with myself, had decided to stick to the road to get to Queropalca. After a couple of Km, gave up on the muddy road and took off through the fields (mud was clogging my chain, making progress impossible). The shortcut took off about 50km, but I doubt it was easier. Farmers came out to have a chat, wondering what the heck I was doing there in the middle of no-where, they were all really friendly though, but everyone seemed to want to buy my bike… After heaving my bike through the grass, up and over a small range, descent was challenging mountain biking. Glad a german guy in Cusco gave me the fat rear tyre! Camped way up high on the slopes, which gave me an awesome sunrise in the morning.
Day 7: After sunrise set off. The valley ended abruptly in a little donkey trail which wound its way down a cliff face. Was super sketchy cycling, and most was un-rideable. Got back onto the roads, and cycled into Queropalca to resupply with 3-4 days of food for my time at Laguna Carhuacocha. Met possibly the most unpleasant person I have encountered in all of Peru, and he wasn’t even that bad, in hindsight just a drunken asshole. After telling the people who were asking that yes, I was travelling solo, he kept drawing his finger across his throat in a cutthroat motion until I eventually had to push him away. I decided to not to stay in town, and tried to hide my camp as well as possible that night. In the afternoon I also had my worst dog experience in all of Peru. Normally when biking, they chase you, and snap at your ankles, i think for most its a game. When you stop and dismount, they back up, and if you pick up a rock (or pretend to) they will run away. These dogs however were freakin vicious. The trail went past a farmhouse, and they came charging out. I jumped off my bike, but they kept charging. No rocks close by, i grabbed my helmet and begun swinging it around by the straps to keep them at bay; i think i made contact with their snapping jaws a coule of times. With the three of them circling around, it was pretty worrying, especially if one bites it means the potential of rabies. Moved on a few more meters until I found some rocks, and lobbed as many as I could their way whilst swiftly making my escape.
Day 8: Arrived at Laguna Carhuacocha in the late morning, made my camp (inconspicuously) high on the hill for the next few days. I arrived thinking the upper section of the river wasn’t worth paddling, too low and not enough gradient, right until I saw a couple of sneaky little waterfalls and slides just below the lake. Went to work building some cairns and scouting out some cool drops and slides on the Rio Carhuacocha. The Marañon is formed when two rivers meet, Lauricocha and Nupe. Technically Lauricocha (which I rode past on day 5) is the source of the Marañon as it contributes slightly more water, however I decided to focus my time on the Nupe/Carhuacocha stem, as it has yet to be contaminated by mining, it also runs of the slopes of Yerupajá, without any roads around which is pretty spectacular.
Day 9: Hiked up as high as I could on the slopes of Yerupajá Chico, building cairns for people along the way. Got as high as i would dare without ropes, and then enjoyed the incredible vista as the glacier groaned and cracked in front of me.
Day 10: Mission complete. Cycled back to Queropalca late morning. Got a huge puncture and realised I had worn through the sidewall of my rear tyre (in multiple places) on all the rocks. Kept going from Queropalca in the afternoon, but the weather set in almost straight away. After putting the wet weather gear on, I started cycling as quick as I could up the hill, trying to get warm. The combination of cold, tiredness and exertion of trying to go fast must have done something. Soon after I felt a pain in my back. Stopping to stretch it out, I realised I must have pinched a nerve or slipped a disk, because something was not right at all. At this point a guy drove past in the pouring rain and offered me a ride. The official self powered part of my journey was over, so under the circumstances I accepted. I got out at the town of Baños and made a beeline for the hot springs, hoping a soak in the piping hot water might fix up my back. After the soak, I made friends with the family running the food store at the springs and went trout fishing with one of the guys using just a bamboo pole and some line. Soon after realised my back was in no shape to do anything, not even get my bike back up the steps to the road… My new friends helped me out massively, gave me a place to stay and even carried my backpack for me. I could barely move. Maybe in 10 days hunched over handlebars I should have done a few more stretches.
Day 11: Woke up barely able to move. Went to the hot springs to soak for a good number of hours then hung out with my new friends. Checked email and found out that the second part of the trip wasn’t going to happen. Josh had cancelled, so the kayaking part would have to wait until another time when I can find a partner. For me cycling and hiking solo is all good, but paddling unknown rivers is a different story. Decided to head back to Lima to play a more active role in the selection process for the project. We now have almost 80 applications! Yikes that’s a lot of reading.
The next couple of days I stayed in Haunuco. Because of elections, transport was jam packed full, and I was in no hurry anyways. Exploring the city and the markets was nice, but I soon got sick of everyone remarking or staring as I walked past- they mustn’t get a whole lot of tourists in those areas. People would see you, turn around and whisper to their friends, then everyone would stare. Or I would hear them whispering ‘GRINGO’ ‘Gringo’ as I went past. Or a lot of people would just call out to me, which was also pretty annoying ‘Oye Gringo!’. One bizarre experience was going from exploring the bustling, lively markets to heading up to the top of the hill to a giant new mall, only two years old still smelling of the fresh paint. From so much happening, noise, colour, people, smells to everything being so controlled, regimented, sterile, planned, marketed… And the horrible shopping centre background music. It was very interesting to compare the two side by side, and to see what is lost as the society changes towards our western ideals. There was so much variety in the market, so much hunting and finding, in comparisson the mall seemed to me incredibly bland. It was nice however, to be able to head to the cinema and kill a couple of hours waiting for my bus; watching Denzel Washington kick ass on the big screen.
Back in Lima now, back is all good, I will just need to stretch a bit more. Getting excited to sift through all the applications in the next few days and choose the team that will make this PwP/Remandojuntos project happen over the next year.